Caramore, Part 2

Those of you following the blog may recall Jerri’s interview at Caramore Community back in October –the one cut short when she confessed she’d smoked crack the day before. Yep. Not one of her more stellar moments. If you’re new to the blog, you can catch up here.

I’m sort of crushing on Caramore. I know, I know. It can’t possibly be ALL THAT but what I’ve read and observed is truly impressive. Caramore is a structured, residential support program for adults with mental illness that uses a step-up approach to empower independence and community employment. Not sure why this is such a novel approach–but trust me, it is– no one else seems to be doing it. Caramore puts brain disorders in their place; chronic conditions to be managed as you get on with the business of living your life.

At first, participants establish a daily work regimen, 30 hours a week, as employees on Caramore’s janitorial or landscaping work crews which provide services to the community. The janitorial crew, for example, cleans churches, businesses, and homes. Participants live in Caramore apartments where Residential Advisors supervise and help them establish personal goals like sticking to a budget or improving social skills. There are 4 participants to an apartment. Everyone has his/her own bedroom, shares a bath with one other person, and shares the kitchen and den with all housemates. Chores are assigned and everyone contributes to maintaining the living space.

Participants earn minimum wage which is applied to their housing. Disability income goes into a savings account which after several months is enough for a deposit and first month’s rent on an apartment outside the program.

As you progress in the program, there’s gradual lessening of supervision and Caramore helps you secure employment in the community at sponsoring businesses. A HUGE shout out to Lowes, Target, Whole Foods, and UNC for being Caramore employers.

After 3 or more months of steady employment, participants move into community apartments. Many split the cost with housemates they met at Caramore. Slowly, Caramore’s services are reduced and eventually phased out. Eventually, participants “graduate” but can continue to network and get support from other alumnae.

Did I mention Caramore has a 90% success rate?

At first glance, it might appear Jerri doesn’t need this kind of program. After all, she’s already able to live fairly independently. She takes her medicine on her own, does her own shopping, pays bills, and has her own apartment. Still Caramore has a lot to offer. Jerri’s not great with money and spends it all within days of getting payed. Probably as a technique to remain clean (if she doesn’t have any money, she can’t buy drugs) and perhaps as a post-traumatic stress response (if she doesn’t have any money, no one can steal from her.) Caramore could help her work through money issues. Jerri is also ready to get a job but fears losing disability and the possibly of getting sick again. Caramore has experts in disability law and can help navigate this. On her own, she lacks the discipline to get up every morning and go to work. Plus she has a felony on her record and that makes it difficult to even find employment. Lastly, her social skills aren’t great. These are all challenges, Caramore can help address.

After the botched interview back in October, Jacob, the Admissions Director, said typically new admissions have to be clean and sober for 6 months prior, however, he would cut that to 3 months for Jerri and scheduled another interview for January 8th. Jacob has since had a promotion and on the 8th, Jerri met with Blake, the new director. The interview went well – no drama this time – and Blake scheduled a trial visit for Jerri to test drive the program.

That was this past week. Trial visits are supposed to be 5 days but with Martin Luther King day on Monday and the ice storm on Friday, Jerri’s visit lasted only 3. She worked on the janitorial crew mostly vacuuming and complained of backaches daily. She described the other participants as “heavily medicated” and likened the experience to “being in a mental hospital” because Caramore dispenses all medications and you have to take them while they watch. When I pressed for one positive thing about the experience, she said “everyone is really nice to me.” She also felt better about the visit after talking to her Residential Advisor for the week.

Yesterday morning, we sat down with Blake and discussed the visit. He said the 3 days really hadn’t been enough time for Caramore or for Jerri to fully assess whether the program was a good fit. Jerri is concerned she might not be physically able to vacuum for 6 hours a day, 5 days a week. (Ha! Who among us is?) So Blake asked her to do another trial visit, for a full week, starting Monday.

For my part, I’m trying my best to remain objective. To me, Caramore seems like a life-saver. On the other hand, what could possibly be worse than ending the relationship with Telecare (her current mental health provider), letting her apartment go (for which there was a waiting list to get in), and moving all her stuff to Caramore only to receive a call 2 weeks later saying it’s not going to work out? Jerri has said as much. “I want to be sure I can physically do the work before I commit.” She was seriously doubting herself when I picked her up yesterday.

“What will you do, Jerri, if you decide you can’t manage the Caramore program? Just go back to watching TV all day?”

“No. Catherina will take me to Vocational Rehabilitation and I’ll try to get back into work that way.”

She’s got good intentions – I’m just concerned about follow-through. And likelihood of success without more structured support than what Telecare can provide. I know, it’s out of my hands. God, grant me the serenity . . .

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4 Comments on “Caramore, Part 2”

  1. I have some anxiety issues that I have to deal with from my P.T.S.D and really understand the level of concern Jerri has about making a decision like this It must be overwhelming and daunting.

  2. Hi Denise! You know, everyone is on their own journey and has to travel at their own speed. You definitely sound like you’ve made great progress. I love seeing your photos on FB and you sound happy and content. Jerri often expresses feelings of loneliness, boredom, and lack of purpose. That’s why I think working would be healthy for her. But maybe she’s not ready. Just dropped her off at her apartment and she is not exactly looking forward to the week ahead at Caramore. I forget sometimes that Jesus instructs us not to worry about tomorrow but to focus on today and take things one day at a time. Great advice for all of us.

    • Denise says:

      Terri, I wouldn’t go as far as being ‘happy’, at least not often. This FB/emailing/etc, it’s hard to see the whole picture. Like Jerri and I’m sure a lot of others, I am often lonely, bored, down, and am not progressing far in some areas. Over all, though, I’m doing better than I was a number of years ago.

      And even though I was diagnosed and went through rough times in NC, I still really miss being in NC.

  3. Denise says:

    I hope wherever Jerri ends up, it’ll provide for her needs and abilities. After hearing about Jerri for awhile now, it does sound like she’s made progress and I hope she’ll continue to.

    Looking back to when I was first diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder [in early 2000]; I’ve made progress as well, especially with my mood swings. But I do know that I need to be on meds probably indefinitely but they do help to mostly stabilize my moods. And I haven’t been able to return to work [maybe some day but not yet as I have other health issues going on as well].

    Like Jerri, at least to some extent, I have money issues and that sometimes scares me as I have no one to ‘rescue’ me if/when needed [though as an adult, I shouldn’t need anyone to rescue me]. And I still have issues with keeping up with stuff here at my apartment. But for those of you that have been to my place when I was still in Durham, things now aren’t as bad as back then. But it worries me that some day I may end up there again. So, like with Jerri, this Bipolar thing is something we have to work with on a daily basis, that’s for sure. But like I said earlier, things ARE better than they were early in this journey.


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